Pest Monitoring in Zoology Collections
Posted On: 03/15/2017 - 12:40pm, Posted By: Heather Farrington, Curator of Zoology
One of the biggest potential threats to our zoology collections is insect infestation. The items in the collection most at risk are the taxidermy animals and the bird and mammal skins. There are many species of beetles and moths that would love to dine on our collections. In fact, our dermestid beetle colony, which we use to clean skeletons, is not housed in our collections building due to the threat of beetles escaping into the collection areas. We must keep a watchful eye for insect activity and damage to specimens in order to catch any infestations in their early stages. This is not unique to our collections, but all natural history museums must be vigilant against pests.
After all of the recent moving and renovation activities in the Geier Research and Collections building, now is a high-risk time for our collections. With collections items, staff, contactors, and building supplies being moved into Geier, insects have had easy access through open loading dock doors, lobby doors, or hitching a ride on items coming in and out of the building.
Zoology Curator Heather Farrington prepares glue traps for placement in specimen cabinets.
So how do we monitor for insect activity? In early February, the Zoology staff and volunteers spent several days setting adhesive bug traps in all of the collection cabinets and drawers. Any insects wandering among the specimens will encounter a trap and get stuck on the surface.
Drawer traps have a tent-like shape to help keep specimens, and human hands, from touching the sticky surface.
These traps are also set under cabinets, in dark corners, along baseboards, and near doorways to monitor insect activity on the floors. Traps are then examined periodically for any harmful bugs.
Floor traps near the door (left) are more likely to catch invaders than ones toward the back of the room (right).
What if we find bugs in the traps? If bugs are found on or around specimens, the collection pieces are examined for damage, sealed in plastic bags, and placed in the freezer for two weeks. The freezing temperatures should kill any insects (adults, larvae, or eggs). After “quarantine”, the specimens are thawed, removed from the bags, and swept with a special vacuum to remove any insect remains. The clean specimens are then returned to their proper place in the collection and fresh traps are set. Most of the bugs we find on the floor have just wandered into the collection area from outside and aren’t harmful, but it helps us keep a record of the types of insects getting into the building and lets us know what to watch for.
Other precautions we take to limit insect activity include climate control (we try to keep the collections area dry and cold, which makes it less attractive to insects) and prohibiting food or drink in the collections areas. Regular cleanings also discourage insects.
Volunteers Loree Celebrezze and Chris Moran place traps into a specimen cabinet.